RaboDirect Pro12: Payne for D’Arcy as new boy makes Ulster debut
Jared Payne will make his Ulster debut on Friday night when Brian McLaughlin’s men host table-topping Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect Pro12 series.
Whether or not the 25-year-old New Zealander starts remains to be seen, though the expectation is that he will, with his first outing likely to be at the expense of full-back Adam D’Arcy.
The addition of Payne’s name was the only change to last week’s squad and the former All Blacks under-21 player admitted that he is looking forward to his first taste of action in an Ulster jersey.
Arguably the best back in 2011 Super 15, in which his club, Auckland Blues, reached the semi-final, he is the latest big-name signing by Ulster’s Director of Rugby David Humphreys.
“He comes with a big reputation in terms of the person he is and what he brings to the squad, both on the pitch and off the pitch,” Humphreys said at yesterday’s Newforge announcement of the squad to face Cardiff.
“That’s the sort of player we need in our squad if we want to go on to the next level.”
Explaining his decision to enlist, Payne said: “Ulster have a lot of ambition. They’re a good club at the moment and I was keen to be amongst them.
“They’ve a good young squad and they play an exciting brand of football so all of it added up and it seemed like a good move.”
Coach Brian McLaughlin concedes that Friday night’s match will be his side’s biggest test to date in the 2011-12 series.
“Cardiff are playing very, very well at the minute. They’ve played two games and they’ve got a bonus point in each so we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“Against Glasgow and Aironi we played reasonably well at times, but we need to be a little bit more consistent.
“Cardiff, with their quality, will make sure that we really have to be on top of our job.”
Admitting that the set pieces against Aironi in the heat of Viadana “weren’t good enough and we know that”, the Ulster coach warned: “If they are away down below par on Friday night, Cardiff will make us pay.”
Captain Chris Henry’s upbeat message was: “We’ve done a lot of work already on our set piece and I think if we improve that we’ll be spot-on for this week.”
McLaughlin added: “Cardiff are always there or thereabouts as far as the Pro12 is concerned.
“At the minute they’re top of the table and we’re lying third, so if we have aspirations, as we had last year, to be in that top four then we’ve got to make sure that we put Cardiff away and getting to the top of the league where we want to be.”